A Commitment to Players and Innovation

The day before Super Bowl LII, the NFL teamed up with Comcast NBCUniversal and Mayo Clinic to host the third annual 1st and Future start-up competition designed to spur advancements in athlete safety and performance.

While judges deliberated on the winning pitches NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was joined onstage by Chairman of NBC Broadcasting & Sports Mark Lazarus, Mayo Clinic President and CEO John H. Noseworthy, M.D. and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for a panel discussion about the role of innovation in sports, including player health and safety.

Read More About this Year’s 1st and Future Winners Here

“Innovation and what we can do to protect our players is obviously a huge priority for us,” Goodell said during the discussion. “All of this is about getting a better understanding of the brain, traumatic injuries, and frankly all injuries,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Wilson underscored the importance of investing in innovation that has the potential to improve the game—now, and in the future.

“This is a really entertaining sport, the greatest sport of all. A lot of people forget that it’s also our job. The science behind what we’re going to do for our young kids down the road is what I’m enthusiastic about,” Wilson said. “That’s why I love being a part of new technologies like VICIS.”

Wilson is an investor in the VICIS helmet company that is working to create safer helmets for NFL players. VICIS, a winner of the NFL-GE Head Health Challenge, an open innovation challenge launched in 2013, developed a helmet designed with both a soft shell that acts like a car bumper and vertical struts inside the helmet that bend and buckle. In addition to investing in the company, Wilson wears the helmet on game-day.

“Typically, you think about a hard helmet, and in the past, those helmets haven’t had any give at all. This helmet actually has give,” Wilson said, holding up a VICIS helmet.

“To think about my career, I’m six years in and hope I’ve got another 15 more to go. I feel like I haven’t started. But this is a big part of it, this helmet.”

Goodell added that initiatives like 1st and Future are all about learning, and working, together.

“Our number one priority is player health and safety,” Goodell said. “And Russell is one of the most active players, not in just health and safety, but also in every aspect of our business. We talk all the time about different ideas that he has on the business. That makes us better.”

Stimulating Advancements and Inspiring Innovators

1st and Future is just one of the NFL’s many partnerships and innovation challenges to stimulate industry-disrupting advancements in protective equipment.

In 2013, GE and the NFL teamed up to launch the Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration to accelerate diagnosis and improve treatment for traumatic brain injury.

As part of the Head Health Initiative, GE and the NFL launched a series of open innovation challenges and offered grants of up to $20 million to winning scientists, academics, experts and entrepreneurs worldwide. The initiative has already funded around 30 innovative companies and inventors that have the potential to revolutionize player health and safety.

As part of the NFL’s Play Smart. Play Safe. initiative, the NFL pledged $60 million toward the creation and funding of a five-year project called the Engineering Roadmap. The project, funded by the NFL and managed by Football Research, Inc. (FRI), aims to improve the understanding of football biomechanics and to create incentives for small businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators and helmet manufacturers to develop new protective equipment. FRI is working with experts from the University of Virginia and Duke to stimulate innovation of player-ready safety equipment.

A critical component of the Roadmap is the HeadHealthTECH Challenges program, another series of open innovation challenges structured to stimulate research and innovation, encourage professional connections, and spur developments in engineering, biomechanics, advanced sensors and material science.